New PC? How to Set Up a Secure System

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Even the most novice PC users can be up and surfing the net on their shiny new machine in no time.

You scrimped, saved and you've finally sprung for that perfect new computer. But for many people, once they get it home and plug it in, they realize they can't get much use out of it until it's set up and secure.

If you’d have asked me three years ago how I get a new system set up, I’d have told you how lucky I was to have a team of skilled computer repair technicians to set up a new PC for me. It turns out that the magical process of set up and securing a new computer isn’t so complicated after all. Even the most novice PC users can be up and surfing the net in no time. Here are some beginner tips to get you started. And if you aren't a beginner, send this article to the friends who tend to recruit you for the job!

Install a Firewall

One of the most reliable ways to secure your computer is to install a hardware firewall. Most users access the Internet through some sort of broadband connection (cable and DSL are the most common). While they’re far speedier than dial-up Internet access, the lines also make it easier for malicious software to access and attack your system if you don’t install some sort of firewall on the connection. Windows has a software firewall you can (and should) activate. But a better line of defense is to also install a hardware version. Make sure that it’s configured according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, that you change the router’s default password settings and that you keep the firmware updated.

Set Up User Accounts

Once out of the box, most people create one user account for the whole family to access computer programs and the Internet. Instead, you should create more than one user login. This way you can set rules and restrictions on your kids' accounts. It's a great way to limit kids' ability to download and install potentially malicious programs to your computer’s hard drive. Activate parental controls in Windows 7 or Windows 8. Both of these newer Windows operating systems have embedded parental control options that will allow you to limit your child’s screen time and control Internet access and downloads. (Learn more about how to restrict what your kids see online in Top 5 Ways to Monitor Your Child's Online Activity.)

Do NOT Surf Unprotected

Before you take a new computer system out for a spin, make sure it has an installed, up-to-date anti-virus program (Windows 8 should have it pre-installed). This will help protect you from transferring infected files from your old PC and corrupting the data on the new one. If it doesn’t have anti-virus and anti-malware protection, make setting up high-quality anti-virus software a top priority.

Ditch Internet Explorer

If you've purchased a PC, chances are it came pre-installed with the Internet Explorer Web browser. There are many alternative browsers you can use to access the Internet, and there are some good reasons why you should. Most techies agree that Google’s Chrome is the fastest option that doesn’t compromise compatibility. For an experiment, go to your favorite websites in Internet Explorer, and then revisit them in Google Chrome. You should notice that, not only are the websites faster, but they look better in a new browser. Internet Explorer is considered one of the slowest and most "incompatible" browsers. Why use it when other great options are available for free?


Set Up Data Backup

Data backup is like the flossing of the tech world: you know you should do it, but you just never get around to it. There’s something in human nature that makes us learn the hard way, but you should try to avoid it in this case. When it comes to risking the data that you need, the price of procrastination is too high. No one wants to lose those one-of-a-kind baby pictures and last year’s taxes. A new system is the perfect reason to set up backup now. The two easiest choices are basic external backup or cloud backup. (Read more about the importance of backup in Data Backup: Can You Afford Not To?)

Setting up a new computer system isn't as simple as just plugging it in. However, taking the time to complete a few simple tasks will help ensure that your computer runs longer and better. Plus, learning how to do them is a great way to better understand a machine you're likely to rely on a whole lot.


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Andrea Eldridge

Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, an on-site computer and laptop repair service for consumers and businesses. Eldridge writes two weekly columns, "Nerd Chick Adventures" in Redding, California's The Record Searchlight, and "Computer Nerds On Call", a nationally syndicated column for the Scripps-Howard News Service. She regularly appears on ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS on shows such as "Good Day Sacramento", "Good Morning Arizona" and "MORE Good Day Portland", offering viewers easy tips on technology, Internet lifestyle and gadgets. Eldridge also works with Demand Media to produce content for and has written a book, "Smartphone101:…